IUBS General Assembly 2007

Education for Sustainability

2:00 PM

Engaging Students in Sustainability Issues:
Investigative Cases, Tools and Data


Ideally students would participate directly in projects that result in products or actions that enhance sustainable systems. This ideal situation will not be possible for most students, however, who will learn about sustainability, briefly, in an academic or school setting. There a different sort of experience will be needed in order to engage students in the kinds of decisions they will have to make outside of school. In this session, we will describe and illustrate the use of investigative cases for engaging students with realistic situations, real data and scientific tools related to decisions about sustainability.

A fruitful approach for engaging people in complex and meaningful decision making is to use realistic situations, or cases, which provide a context and setting within which learning occurs. Such contexts can be tailored to the students. For example, students living in the rapidly growing cities of the US southwest might be interested in sustainable water resources and building practices. In certain agricultural areas, the presence of large scale farming and its attendant waste management problems will be relevant. The chosen case is, then, a means of engaging and focusing students while serving as a foundation for subsequent inquiry and learning. Students would then be introduced to relevant tools, simulations, models and data sets which they can use to investigate their questions and develop rational decisions. In response to the case learners might prepare a briefing paper for a member of government, for example, or an educational pamphlet for consumers, a report of sustainable techniques for a business; or a proposal for a new policy. In any event, investigating realistic cases with the tools and data of science will provide a way to teach about sustainability in academic settings.